About Ben Breen

Project Management Institute (PMI)

Ben Breen, Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Global Head of Construction at the Project Management Institute (PMI)

The Future of Sustainable Construction in Australia 

The global pandemic proved to be a turning point for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues across the world, accelerating action from leaders and businesses in the fight to combat climate change.

We’re increasingly seeing industry commitments to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, however the situation continues to worsen. To help turn the tide, businesses must take on greater responsibility. Although a fifth of the world’s largest companies have set net-zero targets, moving forward, if the world is to arrest the most damaging effects of global warming, sustainability practices will need to be built into every project and process

With an increased focus on environmental and sustainability issues, 71% of Australians believe brands have a responsibility to make a positive change and 78% say the behaviour of a company is as important as what it sells. According to recent research from the Project Management Institute (PMI), almost 40% of organisations have reported major barriers to improving social impact. But breaking down these barriers requires changing the landscape of the industry. By investing in more efficient and greener ways of working, the industry can drive sustainability without sacrificing bottom-line results.

 The role of the construction industry

According to public sources, the Australian construction industry generates over $360 billion in revenue annually, around 9% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP). With a pipeline of $100 billion and an annual growth rate of 2.4% in the next five years.

The industry plays a significant role in Australia’s economy, yet it is also a significant contributor to climate change and Australia’s carbon footprint. Making up 18.1% of all CO2 emissions, with steel and concrete foundations accounting for 25% of greenhouse gasses in Australia.

Building green

According to PwC, despite  90% of Australian CEOs having some level of concern about a lack of sustainable initiatives in construction, just 35 % have greenhouse gas emissions targets built into their long-term corporate strategies.

To achieve positive social impact, construction organisations must develop a deliberate strategy and action plan for all projects.

Forging a project management mindset
Incorporating project management skills and professionals into the sector is essential in developing sustainable design strategies, leading the way towards green construction. PMI’s recent GlobalData report ranked risk management as the most important governance factor around ESG.

This highlights the essential role project management professionals play in today’s world, by bringing teams together to solve complex problems and create positive impact through projects.

These project skills are the soft, non-technical, skills that will help to ensure that leaders have the tools and know-how to effectively manage stakeholders along the journey and tackle complexities.

Attracting students and apprentices

Attracting students and apprentices into the construction industry should be a key priority.

The sector is expected to see an 8.5% increase in employment opportunities over the next five years. Yet, Australia ranks as the world’s 33rd most well-developed training market, globally.

Initiatives, such as the Federal Government’s ‘Skilling for Recovery’ training package, play a key role in helping Australian job seekers to retrain or upskill and support school leavers entering the workforce for the first time. Driving collaboration between universities and the industry will help to address skills shortages and incorporate essential project management skills.

Making the circular economy a reality

There is a growing need to design infrastructure around the evolving way that societies will work, travel, purchase, use green and blue space in the future.

Generating 74 million tonnes of waste per annum, almost 91% of all raw materials do not find their way back into the economy. However, a circular economy, a mode of production that prioritises reused, repaired and recycled materials and commodities for as long as possible. Integrating a circular approach during the construction process allows for maximum utilisation of building materials, limits the resources used and, most importantly, significantly decreases waste.

According to PwC modelling, Australia could save 165 million tonnes of CO2, per year, by 2040with this approach.

Building a future of sustainable construction

In order to build a future of sustainable construction we need to look at everything from A to Z, from security, government regulations, stakeholder and community management, water suppliers and the impact on biodiversity. Leaders must continually assess that their projects are on track to achieve these desired goals and outcomes.

Looking at the full life cycle of a sustainable construction projects, from sourcing to production and distribution to disposal, and embedding sustainable practices into every function, process and design across the value chain will require cross-enterprise collaboration.

Ultimately, the pressure is on for organisations to get serious about sustainability and social impact strategies – simply wanting to do good enough is no longer enough. To lead local, national and global sustainability efforts, the construction industry – as well as industry professionals – must transform. Sixty-nine per cent of ESG leaders plan to change their companies’ policies or practices in the next five years, but doing so requires fundamental changes to ways of working, mentioned above. Establishing proper infrastructure within the industry’s workforce will ensure project teams can continue to raise the bar on positive impact while still delivering on bottom-line results.

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